Take the Ride

I remember reading a Rolling Stone piece in the late 80s about college radio in which many of the kids interviewed wanted to be artist managers or label executives, and they looked down their noses at the kids who simply wanted to learn and do radio. That wasn’t the way we rolled at my old school, however. There, in the late 70s, if anybody wanted to be an artist manager or a label executive, they never said so. We wanted to be DJs, newscasters, and play-by-play guys. Almost all of us loved music, but on the radio, we wanted to play the same stuff we liked to listen to—and we had no interest in being first on new acts. New albums by the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Foreigner, and the like were what got us excited.

It occurs to me now, of course, that this prejudice in favor of the familiar caused us to miss a lot of worthwhile new music. Take Willie Nile, whose first two albums, Willie Nile and Golden Down, were released in 1980 and 1981. I can remember playing a track or two from Golden Down, but they didn’t leave much of an impression on me, or on anybody else I knew. It’s weird to think of that now, because we worshipped at the Springsteen altar in those days, and Golden Down is full of Springsteen-style bombast. But we dismissed Nile as just another New York new-waver without listening very closely at all.

It wasn’t because of our disinterest, but Nile spent a decade in the wilderness after that. Despite an opening slot on the Who’s 1982 tour, he didn’t record again after Golden Down until 1991, and it would be 13 more years beyond that before he made another studio album.

Since 2004, Nile has been more prolific, by his standards, with a several live albums, a new studio album in 2010, and this week, the new American Ride. A copy came in the mail from Conqueroo a few weeks ago, so I put it in the CD bag for the car, and I have been wishing ever since that we’d paid more attention to Willie Nile back in the day. American Ride is, like so many other newer albums I’ve found myself enjoying lately, the kind of thing you can’t make when you’re in your 20s. It takes some mileage and some learning, good times and bad ones (Nile covers Jim Carroll’s legendary “People Who Died”), before you approach anything like wisdom. Exhibit A: the title track of the album takes a concept that’s been done to death—hitting the road to Find America and at the same time Finding Yourself—and makes it sound like nobody ever thought of it before. You can hear that track and read a full review over at Something Else Reviews.

It’s an indication of how far Nile had slipped off the music industry’s radar that American Ride had to be crowd-funded. But if there’s another Willie Nile album, that probably won’t be necessary.

On Other Matters: I link to a lot of music-related stuff on Twitter, but if you don’t use Twitter, you’ll probably miss it. So here are a few of the recent links:

So go read ’em already. (And then get on Twitter, if you’re not. I guarantee you’ll find it useful—and more fun than Facebook—or I’ll give you your money back.)

2 responses

  1. I was sold the first time I heard Willie’s “It’s All Over” on OU’s student-run KGOU-FM, a great little commercial college station from Norman. Or it was until the school’s president decided his station should have loftier, non-com goals, in spite of a sub-peashooter signal. Glad to hear Mr. Nile is still at it.

    We had our share of college radio jocks who wanted to play only the familiar hits, but they never stuck around very long. Breaking the hits was our niche, since every commercial format was already in abundance in town. There was one staffer who wanted to be in the concert booking business, but after lining up several big names for what turned out to be a no-show outdoor show, *he* became the wanted one. Based on several name search hits, he appears to have made something of a career out of stiffing performers.

    A couple of us working in promotion at a local record distributorship was about as close as it got to label exec territory, but it became pretty apparent that not even a double major in Ferretology and Weaselogical Sciences would sufficiently pry that career door open. The Soul Selling 101 prereq was just too much of a stumbler.

  2. After 20+ years I left radio in the late 90s, too tired of all the ownership changes and mergers. After 12 years away, with “radio in my blood,” I returned in 2010 realizing it is a business (but still beats real work). The revelation to me is that we are in the radio business, not the music business. Is it as fun as it was B.D. (Before Deregulation)? Of course not! But what industry is? I may soon leave again, this time for good, but I will cherish the fun, the creativity and the great and strange people I have met along the way. Rock on, Jim – I enjoy your writing.

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